LCT I Love You

By Ira Wolfert

Someday someone will write the saga of the landing craft. This is not it. This is merely the material for an epic chapter. To the layman, the LCT-Landing Craft, Tanks, looks like a tin shed with a false front, traveling upside down and backward through the water. The major difficulty about the LCT as a water-going vehicle is that it has no sense. Instead of riding waves, it tries to club them to death.

Another difficulty is the skippers of these craft. They are all male Tugboat Annie's, ninety-day wonders graduated as ensigns, truculent, fretful, quarrelsome, eager and more friendly than anything else on two legs that I have found. They bow before nothing. Aní LCT in the South Pacific that cut across the way of one of our mightiest and newest battleships did not give water. Instead, the skipper grabbed up a mega-phone and shouted in the direction of the admiral on the bridge, "Canít you see where the hell youíre going with that damn thing?"

In general, the LCT is something that only a mother can love, and its skippers love it. They have written a poem to it. The printable purport of which is: "Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can steer an LCT." They have bestowed fond names on their vessels, but the regular Navyís names for them are not so tender. They call them water mules or spitkits, seagoing jalopies, sea jeeps or just plain four-letter words.

While at sea, the LCTís are always getting into the Navyís hair because of their awkward habits; on shore, the tangle is caused by the ensignsí insistence that their craft are warships. For a long time in the Solomon's, LCT skippers had nothing to back up their claims in the arguments that raged up and down the Tulagi shores. Where PT boats, destroyers, cruisers and submarines were busily laying claim to every drowning Jap within thousands of miles. Then LCT 181 skippered by Ens. Herbert Solomon, of Brooklyn, got caught out in the great raid of April seventh and undeniably shot down one Jap plane of a formation that was trying to sink and succeeded in sinking a destroyer. Tulagi refused to take the affair seriously. They described it as a sneak punch. "A girl can knock out a champ if the champ isnít looking," Tulagi pointed out discourteously, and the mortified LCT skippers went out scouring the seas for a Jap who was looking, but the best they could come back with was a story by Ens. Cooky Johnson LCT 182. Cooky claimed there was this Jap two-man sub, looking him square in the eye. "I lowered my ramp and charged," Cooky said over a bottle of beer, "and I butted him to death."

That tall story was the best the LCTís could do for themselves all spring and on into summer. There were plenty of Japs around, but they Never came close enough to be shot at. These water bugs as Tulagi Lost no time in stating did not seem to the Japs to be worth the time or bullets. Then, on July Fourth, glorious day of independence, a flotilla of jalopies was anchored off Rendova. waiting to unload. and suddenly it happened.

LCT 376, On the beach at Rendova Island  3 Oct. 1943 NARA

A formation of sixteen Jap two-motored bombers came over to attack the island installations. They dropped like bolts from a low cloudbank, catching everybody sound asleep. Their fighters were very high. brawling with our fighters and keeping them off. and the bombers came in at 3000 feet and dropped their eggs and were on their way away before anybody rightly knew what had hit him. The Japs, as usual, were disdainful of the squat landing craft, whose silhouettes dotted the harbor like so many fried eggs that had been stepped on. The Jap bombers did not climb. They did not dodge. They just stepped right over the LCTís.

LCT 369 unloading at W. Arundel landing, New Georgia Oct. 1, 1943 NARA

If the truth were known, the LCTís were caught with their anchors down too. This, the lads stoutly deny. They claim they were only lying in wait to ambush the sons of heaven. But the fact is that only one craft, LCT 369, skippered by Ensign Gillette, sallied forth with brave evasive action, putting all steam ahead in a gallant but dubious effort to out-speed the 300-mile-an-hour planes.

The rest, stacked all tidy at anchor, stood where they were and threw up a whole froth of antiaircraft fire. The first startled Jap plane took a long time falling. but in a moment more there was a veritable hail of burning Jap planes dropping around the jubilant spitkits. An official count credits them with downing twelve of the sixteen Jap bombers.

But peace has not returned to Tulagi. The spitkit skippers claim they got thirteen, and the arguments about this are as violent as the old arguments were about whether the LCTís are warships.

 

   

© 2000 LCT Flotillas of World War II ETO PTO

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